Community, Cottage Grove

Building bridges: Family Relief Nursery honors past, still looking forward

Like a gathering of former U.S. presidents, the women who have led the Cottage Grove Family Relief Nursery through the first 25 years gather on stage and are recognized for their work helping children, families and the community. Executive director Peggy Whalen (right) thanks the pervious executive directors(from left) Colleen Stewart, Cindy Vitell, Heather Murphy and Diane Hazen. Gini Davis/The Creswell Chronicle

Chanelle, 25, found herself ”completely and utterly lost” and uncertain ”where to turn for help” before a chance meeting with a teacher in a Yoncalla store led her to the Family Relief Nursery.
Overwhelmed by her responsibilities and stressful experiences, including a critically ill daughter, a mass shooting at her college and the loss of her third child, Chanelle found herself shutting down emotionally. But the support, respite care and parenting classes provided by FRN helped her learn to manage stress, access community resources, prioritize parenthood and refocus her life.
”When I started I was a shell of a person and my children were isolated, with almost no relationship with kids their own age,” Chanelle said. ”But we’re a family now – and one I’m proud to be part of. And I have the tools and resources to get help if I need it.”
Best of all, FRN ”gave me back my joy in motherhood,” Chanelle said.
”This is why we do the work,” FRN Executive Director Peggy Whalen told guests gathered for a ”Love Can Build a Bridge”-themed Sigh of Relief fundraiser breakfast, held June 25 at Cottage Grove High School, following the young mother’s testimonial. ”And we invite you to join us; we can’t do this without your support.”
And join they did, donating approximately $8,000 to FRN’s continuing efforts to reduce and prevent child abuse and neglect by building trust and providing services to parents without judgment.
It’s work that began the year Chanelle was born – as Chanelle herself noted – and FRN executive directors past and present attended the breakfast to mark the organization’s 25th anniversary.
In that time, FRN has grown from one therapeutic classroom in Cottage Grove to nine, in three communities: Cottage Grove, North Douglas and Creswell.
Knowing they’ve made a difference is the staff’s greatest reward.
”Absolutely nothing tops the recognition of Relief Nursery children as honor students, as happy, healthy contributors to their schools and communities, getting awards… It really makes me tear up because I know where they’ve come from,” said Heather Murphy, a past director.
”So many children’s life stories have been changed for the better,” longtime board member and former interim director Diane Hazen said.
She noted that more than 2,500 children have been served – 500 last year alone. ”They’ve graduated from high school, from college, started families of their own. The most vulnerable kids in our communities have learned how to trust and to build healthy relationships,” she said.
Caring community donors and sponsors have supported every step of that process. Aided by Cottage Grove Rotary, FRN opened at a church in 1994; in 1997, First Presbyterian Church donated land on which FRN constructed a permanent building. In 2004, FRN expanded; the North Douglas classroom opened in 2010, followed by the Creswell classroom in 2016.
Volunteers are an invaluable asset. During the breakfast, FRN intake specialist Crystal Morrison presented her dad Randle Kersey with a Good Neighbor Award for his six years of painting, hauling dirt, rock and mulch, building cabinets, moving furniture and other volunteer tasks.
”I’ve always loved kids, and I enjoy being able to help the nursery,” Kersey said.
Whalen also presented roses to past FRN directors Colleen Stewart, Cindy Vitelli, Murphy and Hazen.
”I’m humbled to follow in the footsteps of these amazing women,” Whalen said. ”I’m so proud to be part of this organization and I look forward to us continuing to do great things to keep children safe and families together.”
Board President Jacque Robertson encouraged guests to make their own commitment to supporting FRN’s vital work.
”My mother, LaVae Robertson (for whom the Creswell classroom is named) left me with a legacy and a passion for things that are a good deal – and the Family Relief Nursery is a good deal, because it’s highly successful,” Robertson said. ”For 25 years, we’ve touched so many lives because of our community’s commitment to building bridges with love. It truly does take a village, and when we all stand together, we can do anything.”
‘Family Matriarchs’ – 25 years of commitment:
Colleen Stewart was Cottage Grove Family Relief Nursery’s first program director (the position was later retitled as executive director), from 1994-2000. ”It changed my life, truly, working for an agency that focuses on growth and strength … providing services without judgment,” she said.
Heather Murphy, who led the organization from 2000-14, is executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Lane County, a non-profit that supports children in the court system.
Cindy Vitelli, director of programs at FRN since 2001, stepped in as executive director in 2015, following Murphy’s departure, ”but my heart was really in direct service,” she said. Vitelli is retiring this year; her last day at FRN was Friday, June 28.
Diane Hazen has been on the FRN board since 1993 (beginning with its Founding Board). She served as interim executive director from 2016, heading the FRN Leadership Team’s search for a new permanent, full-time director until Peggy Whalen was hired in March 2019. ”Peggy has the energy, vision, passion and experience for the job,” Hazen said.
Peggy Whalen took over as executive director on March 1, 2019. She brings more than 38 years’ experience in intervention, advocacy and support of trauma and abuse survivors and has had advanced nonprofit management training. ”I’m humbled to follow in the footsteps of these amazing women,” she said. ”I am so proud to be part of this organization and look forward to continuing to do great things as we keep children safe and families together.”



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